Basically it’s none of our business how somebody manages to grow, if only he does grow, if only we’re on the trail of the law of our own growth …
Rainer Maria Rilke to Clara Rilke
Rilke first came to Paris in 1902, to write a book on Auguste Rodin (he had been introduced to the language of sculpture by his wife, Clara Rilke-Westhoff, who studied under Rodin in 1901).
Rodin and his work had a profound impact on Rilke’s own growth. Now, in 1907, he is working on the second part of his book on Rodin (the first was published in 1903).
JUNE 28, 1907
.. and that Rodin does not “think about” his work but remains within it: within the attainable—that is just what we felt made him so exceptional, this humble, patient path he trod through the real: and I have not yet found another faith to replace this one.
In art, you can only stay within the “well done,” and by your staying there, it increases and surpasses you again and again.
It seems to me that the “ultimate intuitions and insights” will only approach one who lives in his work and remains there, and whoever considers them from afar gains no power over them.
But all that already belongs in the area of personal solutions. Basically it’s none of our business how somebody manages to grow, if only he does grow, if only we’re on the trail of the law of our own growth …
Rainer Maria Rilke to Clara Rilke
STORYLINE: THE WORK
The artistic process, THE WORK, is another major theme of the book. For Rilke, art is fundamentally the same work, be it poetry, painting or sculpture.
What he sees in Rodin (and later, in Cézanne and van Gogh) is something he strives for himself (and finds himself lacking): being always, unwaveringly “within the work”.
Here, ever-presence “within the work”, within the simple and unambitious “well done”, is opposed to “thinking about it” (and having grand ideas about it).
Here is a more precise description from his monograph on Rodin:
Rodin discovered the fundamental element of his art, as it were, the cell of his world. And this was the plane, the exactly defined plane, of varying size and emphasis, from which all else must be made.
From this time onward it was the subject of his art, the object of all his efforts, of his vigilance and his endurance. His art was not based upon any great idea, but upon the conscientious realization of something small, upon something capable of achievement, upon a matter of technique.
There was no arrogance in him. He devoted himself to this insignificant and difficult aspect of beauty which he could survey, command and judge. The other, the greater beauty, must come when all was ready for it, as animals come to drink when night holds sway and the forest is free of strangers.
In 1903, Rilke wrote to Lou Andreas-Salomé:
Somehow I too must discover the smallest constituent element, the cell of my art, the tangible immaterial means of expressing everything.
SEEING PRACTICE: HANDS
The sculptures in this post embody the idea of the grand seen and enacted in something small and ever-present, unnoticed, taken for granted: our own hands, and the hands of our fellow human beings.
This beauty we see in Rodin is there for us everywhere we go, literally in our own hands.
All it takes is to pay attention to one’s hands, and to the hands of others: their planes and shapes, and the cathedral-like spaces created when they meet with one another .